Natural rights. I am supposed to be trying to explain individual liberties and rights as a founding principle of America. Natural rights don’t make any sense to me. My professor says that it is wrong to consider rights “social constructs” and the liberals who champion that position are “destroying our republic.” In a lecture he told us, that people are given rights from God (not the government) and no one can take them away. I agree that rights don’t come from the government, but they can clearly be taken away. Did slaves and women have (“God given”) rights when they were born? If they were born with the three rights (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”) how did they lose them?  If so weren’t they taken away from someone at some point? Did “We the People” even include those two groups of people?  It seems to me that establishing who is entitled the rights is something that our government has decided. Also how are all people unequal (they are all different and have different capabilities) and still equal under the law? Even equality and the political status of certain Americans e.g. women and African-Americans has changed.  

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Basically, rights are social constructs.  The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not universal.  Some cultures do not believe in the right to life, for example.  Even though we supposedly believe it in America, some states have the death penalty.  It's not as simple as it may seem.  The Declaration of Independence is open to interpretation.  Jefferson might have been referring to all humans, not all White men.

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In this country (US), we tend to believe that everyone has certain God given rights. Often, we see protests or wars with other countries fought to insure these rights are granted to everyone. While I believe that God gives us certain rights, I also believe that it is the government or the society that determines what rights are permitted. Your example of slavery shows this. For a time, the leaders of this country saw slaves as less than people; therefore, they were not entitled to the same rights as other citizens. Of course, most people now believe this idea to be wrong, but slavery still continues around the world in other forms. The government of any country definitely determines which rights are afforded to its people. The decisions are based on the society and culture of the time. In the US, we believe that "we the people" should determine these rights and we vote according to who agrees with our personal convictions. This was part of the design of the founding fathers. At the time, citizens of other countries did not have this type of influence over their kings and governments. The freedom to determine which rights we believe to be God given is a part of the founding principles of this country.
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When considering questions like this that pertain to specific documents and specific language, you must bear in mind that the words you are reading are philosopher's words and not immutable words carved in granite in the bedrock of Earth. In other words, "pursuit of happiness," for example, is the way philosophical thinkers of that era expressed the idea that humankind, in expression of dignity, creativity, aspirations, goals, dreams, ideals, etc., has the innate privilege of seeking the fulfillment of these and that no tyrant has the contrary privilege to usurp or overthrow the freedom to seek their fulfillment. This is despite the fact that tyrants do consistently usurp and overthrow this freedom giving justification, therefore, to rebellion to remove the tyrant from a position from which harmful power may be exerted over innocent others.

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I would have to agree with the posting above. Rights are not something given by government, they are something that is, instead, taken away. All people are born in the same faction (human). Based upon this, by birth, all people should be considered equal. Unfortunately, this is not the fact.

Instead, governments, who believe they have the power to take away rights, do so given that "we" allow them to. Only those who escape from the oppression can be considered to be taking back their g/God given rights.

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I am not American, so bear that in mind as you read my response to this question. Firstly, I agree with your lecturer when he says that rights are not "given" by a government or country. They are indeed given by God, which means it is the government's responsibility to uphold those rights and ensure their fulfilment. However, at the same time, there is always a sense in which the general situation of inequality and poverty that plagues every country is going to mean that those rights are more available for some than for others. To what extent, for example, can a single woman working three jobs and trying to look after her children at the same time be said to be able to engage in the pursuit of her own happiness?

This points towards the way in which the achievement of having those rights for everybody is something of a partial process, in that it is not completed as yet. Governments and administrations, if they are doing their job properly, should be trying to introduce new legislation to make their society more equitable and therefore give a greater chance for these rights to actually be equally available among their populace. Unfortunately, because we are humans and we make lots of mistakes thanks to our personal greed, this is something that has to be an ongoing process. Does this begin to answer your question?

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